Articles & Essays

Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945

By Sophie Fetthauer

edited since 2005 at the University of Hamburg by
Claudia Maurer Zenck and Peter Petersen
with contributions from Sophie Fetthauer

Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit
ab 2005 an der Universität Hamburg herausgegeben von
Claudia Maurer Zenck und Peter Petersen
unter Mitarbeit von Sophie Fetthauer

In considering musical life during the Third Reich, and especially the consequences of Nazi policies regarding music, one inevitably comes across a variety of people: perpetrators, collaborators and followers – creators and representatives of the National Socialist German state – as well as victims and opponents of the regime. The approach to research may differ: banned professions and censorship may be the subjects, as may the development of professions, schools, musical institutions and branches of musical economy; musical life in the Jewish Cultural League, in the ghettos and concentration camps; aspects of assimilation and “brain gain” in the countries of exile; “brain drain” and the loss of traditions and knowledge in Europe; internal exile and remigration; and, finally, the history of composition, conditions of reception etc. Whatever perspective one chooses, every subject is connected with musicians whose lives were disrupted or even destroyed, or who at least were turned in another direction.

In publications about the history of twentieth-century music, persecution and exile during the Third Reich are still represented only to a small extent, and even if musicians who were persecuted are referred to, their fate as victims of persecution or as refugees is not necessarily recognizable. Thus it is still important to describe the lives of thousands of musicians who had to leave their countries or who were killed in the concentration camps and ghettos. Their lives and their work have to be rediscovered, and they still have to be inserted into general music history.

The interest in all these people, and the fact that it is through these musicians that the research fields mentioned above can be made accessible, are the motivation behind the Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945. For this reason, the aim of the project is twofold: In the first place, research lacunae will be eliminated through the presentation of information about the lives of individual persecuted musicians. In the second place, the biographical dictionary itself will be an instrument for further research work.

The Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945 is a music lexicon focused on a special subject. Four criteria have been specified to determine the project's objectives and limits: The people included were (and, in some cases, still are) professional musicians in a broad sense; they belonged to one of the groups that faced persecution during the “Third Reich;” they lived and/or worked in Germany or Austria or were at least known there as musicians; and, finally, they have to be identifiable by name and by date of birth or death.

The project's title and first criterion refer to “musicians,” part defined here as anyone involved in musical life. Starting with composers, instrumentalists, singers and conductors, the biographical dictionary goes on to include pedagogues, scholars, music critics, stage directors and music therapists as well as representatives of cultural policy, broadcasting and record companies, concert agencies and music publishing firms. In other words, not only composers and performers are included but also all those people who were involved with the mediation, distribution and cultural and economic organization of music.

Since all kinds of musical professions are included, it stands to reason that the project deals with all kinds of musical genres, from serious music at one extreme to light music at the other. For instance, one can find singers of all kinds in the biographical dictionary: opera, operetta, concert and choir singers, singers of chansons or folk songs, singing musical clowns as well as cantors in synagogues and churches.

As stated before, only professional musicians are included. This criterion doesn't imply any special achievement or reputation but is rather meant to ascertain that the people included regarded music as their principal occupation during at least some part of their life. It follows, then, that purely lay or amateur musicians are not included.

Professional reputation is often connected with public image, but, as the previous explanations indicate, degree of fame is not among the selection criteria. Musical life, for example in choirs or orchestras, relies mainly on the work of musicians whose names are not known to the public. Nazi terror did not make an exception of these people. They were banned from their professions and had to face other reprisals just like more prominent musicians.

Persecution by the National Socialist German state meant discrimination, defamation, censorship, deprivation, expulsion from the country, imprisonment, torture and/or murder. Most people were persecuted for “racial” reasons – for being Jews or just having Jewish ancestors – but apart from that there were also political, religious, ideological and cultural reasons. All these aspects are incorporated into the project's basic concept, as are their varying consequences: exile in foreign countries, deportation to ghettos and concentration camps and sometimes survival in hiding.

The biographical dictionary is confined to a specific region: the musicians have to have been born within the borders of Germany or Austria or must have lived there and/or been active somehow in musical life there. This requirement is a pragmatic one: although it would certainly be desirable and even more meaningful to include all musicians who were persecuted by the Nazis, especially after the German annexation and occupation of several European countries during World War Two, the project has so far had to be limited to Germany and Austria.

Inclusion is not, however, dependent on age. The biographical dictionary includes not only musicians who were active between 1933 and 1945, but also those who were already retired at the time, or who were still children and became professional musicians only later on.

The criteria mentioned above define the project's core areas. But of course some fringe areas must also be kept in mind. There are, for instance, cases of individual musicians who were persecuted only potentially, since their resistance was not discovered or they withdrew from the public before becoming targets for persecution. This applies to musicians in internal exile or musicians who left the country voluntarily, to express their opposition to the Nazi regime. In other cases, musicians anticipated the coming persecution and left the country before 1933 or found themselves accidentally on tour at the time and did not return to Germany after January 1933 or to Austria after March 1938. Still other musicians who would have faced persecution received special permits (“Sondergenehmigungen”) that allowed them to keep on working in Germany. Marriages with so-called “Aryans,” economic interests, credit abroad and patronage were among the reasons behind such temporary or ongoing special permits. Finally, the biographical dictionary includes those amateur musicians who, for at least some time, owed their living or even their survival to music, as, for example, all those amateur musicians who played in concentration camp orchestras. These special cases must not be ignored, because the biographical dictionary must call attention to the various ways in which people survived.

The starting point of the Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945 is a list of about 5.000 names that Peter Petersen collected over the last twenty years. The names of these persecuted musicians were recovered from literature about music in the Third Reich and in exile, from the press, archival sources and other documents, as, for example, the Nazi music encyclopedias Lexikon der Juden in der Musik and Judentum und Musik.

So far (February 2009) almost 350 complete articles have been published. Each of these individual entries provides a biography, describing the musician's professional and other activities, with particular reference to the history of persecution and exile. A list of works, documents and literature as well as photos complete these entries. These complete articles have been written by members of the project team as well as by external musicologists and other scholars.

Short articles have also been published, in which only names, professions and dates of birth and death are included. But these short entries, too, are based on documented proof that these musicians were persecuted. They will be augmented to the status of full articles in the future. The biographical dictionary currently contains about 1,200 short entries. The main source for most of these short entries are the Reich's Music Chamber files from the Berlin Document Center holdings in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin. These files mainly document professional bans and the issuing of special permits. Other short entries rely on documents from the state archive in Vienna, the archive of the Department for Foreign Affairs in Berlin, memorial books and the Yad Vashem database of Holocaust victims.

The Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945 is a work in progress. New complete articles as well as short entries are published regularly. In addition, new information and corrections are added to the articles permanently.

The Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945 is an online resource ( It comprises a biographical dictionary and a bibliography, both of which are accessible either through alphabetical registers or through extensive search tools. The search tools not only guarantee the possibility of finding individual musicians easily but are also aimed at supporting research on specific subjects. There are, for example, several keyword-based search functions (“gender,” “professions,” “reasons for persecution” and “persecution/exile”).

The Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945 was established in 2005 at the Musicological Institute of the University of Hamburg. It is funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), and, as a digital publication on the Internet, it has been accessible online to the general public since April 2006. It is edited by Claudia Maurer Zenck and Peter Petersen with the help of Sophie Fetthauer.

In addition to publishing the Biographical Dictionary of Persecuted Musicians 1933-1945, the project is conceived as an archive and an information office for researchers and other people interested in music in the Third Reich and in exile.

Posted July 2009

Articles & Essays